In 2014, at age 22, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. It was a diagnosis that I found hard to accept; in fact, I felt almost embarrassed by the diagnosis. My doctor prescribed anti-depressants which were to be taken every day. I started taking these each morning, however they would give me the worst headaches imaginable, making me feel like the room was spinning around me. They also made me sensitive to light and I would end up sitting in a completely dark room. I hated taking them, but I knew that it was part of a long-term plan to get me feeling “normal” again… whatever that felt like.
Along with taking my daily medication, the doctor had advised that I should see a counsellor to clear my mind and un-bottle things. He also recommended light exercise as a way to clear my mind and get out of the house. Neither of these recommendations sat well with me. Talking felt difficult, especially because I wasn’t even sure why I felt the way I did. Deep down I battled with myself and questioned why I was feeling this way. I was surrounded by supportive family and friends, had a good job and no reason to feel how I did. In fact, this actually made me feel guilty. How could I feel like this when other people had it so much harder and would happily swap places to have my life?
As for the suggestion of light exercise… how? I had no energy or motivation to leave the house. The thought of going to the gym filled me with dread and anxiety. All I wanted was to return to my simple 9-5 working life and “normality” … or wrap up in bed, in the dark, and not move. Plus, I had never been an active person, so it really didn’t sound like something that I would benefit from.
In the end, I decided against the counsellor option, but instead opened up more to my family and friends. It took a lot of talking, but also a lot of listening. I thought that people would see me as weak, however the opposite seemed to be the case! People didn’t judge me, instead they offered support and a shoulder to cry on. This helped me to change my perception of myself. I stopped seeing myself as weak and instead starting to focus on what I could do rather than letting my anxiety and depression win. Looking back, I have always been quick to criticize myself for things that I can’t do and my weaknesses, but I never stopped to look at what I’m good at. I am definitely my own worst critic!
Eventually, I managed to battle my anxiety and returned to work. Being back at work helped to keep my mind busy. I was also walking to and from work, which was around 40 minutes each way. These walks allowed me to get some fresh air and to clear my mind. Shortly after returning to work I met an amazing man. I took a chance and decided to be honest from the start about my mental health. With his support I was able to wean myself off of my medication (after consulting with my doctor). I reduced my medication from one tablet every day, to one every other day, then one every two days, and so on.
It didn’t take long before I was off of my medication completely. Unfortunately, mental illnesses are often things which stay with you. They are never fully treated, you just learn to manage them. Even now my head can still make me doubt myself and my anxiety can make it difficult to do things. For example, driving was a big thing for me. I passed my test first time, but then my anxiety became too much for me to actually drive on my own.
Anxiety is a strange one, because sometimes I stress so much over things such as will I be able to find a parking space at the local supermarket? Yet, moving house doesn’t phase me. My mind can turn the smallest of things into a big issue. Deep down, I know that I can face anything that I need to… it’s just convincing my mind of that first!
Why I Run:
I have a few reasons that keep me running, but the main one is that it acts as a way for me to manage my anxiety, and in turn, battle my negative thoughts and depression. It has changed the way that I see myself. This isn’t the reason that I started running though. I had my gallbladder removed, and alongside a comfortable relationship, I consequently put on weight. It was starting to have a negative effect on my mental health as I started to feel self-conscious and anxious. I had never been an active person – I much preferred my video games as a teen! At school I used to forge sick notes to get out of physical education lessons. However, this time things were different as I had a goal in mind to lose weight.
I joined the gym and opted for the treadmill as it was a high calorie burner. There I was, minding my own business doing a brisk walk on the treadmill whilst watching the TV, until I notice the guy to my right. He’d been on the treadmill before I started and was now giving it his all on his run. He was a big guy, a lot heavier than me, and slightly taller. I glanced over at his treadmill speed and decided to match him… after all, if he can do it, I should be able to… or so I thought! I managed around 30 seconds before I was red-faced and winded. In fact, I still remember feeling like my insides were going to burst. Yet, there he was, still going for it; sweat dripping from his face but he was still going. This was when I realized just how unfit I actually was. I thought I was okay as I could walk for miles and miles, but it turned out that I was wrong. This was the motivation that I needed to get my head down and train. I started to push myself more on each run. I got the “running bug” and purchased a Garmin 35 watch, and my first dedicated pair of running shoes. Soon I built up my intervals until before I knew it, I was able to run a mile. Seeing this progress made me proud of myself and want to see how far I could improve.
I was grateful that I had been lucky enough to have received support from family and friends. At the same time, however, I understood that not everyone was so lucky. This is when I decided to push myself and run a marathon. I applied to run the London Marathon through Mind, the mental health charity. Running had helped my mental health so now I wanted to give something back, and what better way than to do it whilst running! I was lucky enough to get a charity place and set off to fundraise for a worthy cause.
On Sunday 22nd April 2018, I completed my first ever marathon, and London, no less! It took me 7:03:07, but I did it. It was the hottest London Marathon on record, and I definitely felt it. At first I was disappointed with my time, but that was just the perfectionist in me. Soon I realized what an achievement it had been. In November 2016 I couldn’t run for 30 seconds without feeling like I was going to collapse. My first Parkrun (5k) had taken 46:11, and my first 10k took 1:22:28. I completed my first half marathon in October 2017 with a time of 2:59:47.
Completing the London Marathon gave me confidence. It made me realize that I could do anything that I put my mind to. That was the kick I needed to start taking my training seriously. Since then my training has been more consistent. My race times have improved drastically. At the time of writing my 5k personal best is 25:58, 10k 56:28, half marathon 2:11:02, and marathon is 5:03:17.
As a result of my new found love for running, I not only lost over 3 and a half stone, I also had a way to battle my mind. Running is now a regular part of my life and it’s fair to say that it has had a tremendous impact on my life. It also encourages me to watch what I eat and make healthier choices as I want to try and fuel my body efficiently.
I’ve noticed that when I train consistently, I have fewer mental battles and the “bad days” are few and far between. It also helped me to find the courage to join a running club which was 15 miles away; not only did I have to battle my social anxiety, I also had to conquer my fear of driving to an unfamiliar area. Overall, my life now has a sense of purpose as I am actively trying to achieve my running goals. Long distance running also seems to earn you respect, and I enjoy knowing that I can run further than anyone I know! Running is the one thing that I have stuck with. I have flirted with more than my fair share of hobbies and past times, but I soon lose interest. Usually I get really into something new for a few weeks and then end up burning myself out. Running has been completely different for me. It’s something which I wish I had started sooner, but now really want to push myself to my full ability.
So, what’s the moral of the story? Believe in yourself and don’t give yourself such a hard time. There are more than enough people in the world who will try to bring you down, so make sure that you are able to stand yourself up. Don’t compare yourself to others. Sure, you may not be able to run for 60 seconds when you start out; you may struggle with week 1 of a Couch To 5k program, but so what? You are just starting out on your journey, so don’t compare yourself to people who are further along in theirs. Enjoy the journey and set yourself goals, no matter how small. Take time out to look at what you are good at. Invest in yourself. Every day I try to work on myself; it may be studying, or working out, but I just try to do at least one thing that my future self would be proud of or benefit from. My motto is “don’t spend 8+ hours working for someone else without spending time working on yourself”. Ultimately, make yourself your priority.